Adventures In Moving In An Italian Hill Town

There are times in Italy when simple things are not so simple after all. You start out with a clear expectation and find yourself confronted with unexpected surprises.

For example, moving your household goods from one apartment to another apartment just a few blocks away, "as far as the crow flies," ought to be simple. Problem is, you can’t get there from here.

This is particularly true when you live in an Italian hill town that is over 2,100 years old.

In towns (comune) like mine, the streets were designed for Roman foot soldiers, for horses, horse-drawn merchant carts, the occasional chariot for Roman royalty on holiday, and ordinary townspeople walking to the market.

This Road Is Perfect For A Roman Chariot But Not A 21st Century Moving Van

This Road Is Perfect For A Roman Chariot But Not A 21st Century Moving Van

To be sure, the winding, undulating, and often steep streets of old were not designed for today’s giant household moving vans.

Some of the streets here are paved with a type of stone (sampietrini), which are small intricately cut stones that are locked tightly together end-on-end. Other streets utilize cobblestones (ciottolo), extremely hard roundish rocks of comparable size that are secured with mortar.

Though these paving materials are durable, and laid to be to artfully attractive, they also can be noisy, bumpy, and devilishly slippery when wet.

Many of our medieval streets are also exceptionally narrow -- bordering on impassable by mini-car unless you first fold in the side rear view mirrors.

Add to this streets with sharp turns, overhanging second-floor balconies (balcone sporgente), row upon row of potted plants making the street even narrower, and a moving van is out of the question.

A Second Floor Balcony

A Second Floor Balcony Jutting Out Into The Roadway

Can Make Travel "Difficult" For Moving Vans

You can see and learn more about sampietrini HERE, and cobblestones HERE.

I have lived in three different locations within the old Roman and medieval hill town of Spello, in Central Italy.

A View Of Spello, Italy

A View Of Spello, Italy

My First Move

The first move was easy. I had moved from the U.S. carrying a couple of suitcases. It wasn’t raining so there was no worry about slipping on sampietrini or cobblestones.

My first apartment was created out of the basement (fondo) of a three-story building. The apartment space on the ground floor was originally where animals were housed centuries ago. The apartment was dug out of a hillside buttressed by a thick natural stone back wall. It featured an eat-in kitchen, a living room, a bathroom and an elevated small bedroom loft area located above the living room. Just outside the front door is a wonderful view of a beautifully restored 2,000-year old Roman Gate built to protect townspeople from invaders.

The apartment was almost completely furnished. I literally opened the door to the apartment and moved in.

My Second Move

For the second move, I relocated to another apartment also in the old historic center of Spello. The two apartments were close “as far as the crow flies,” but much further by car.

Because I had few things to move, I expected moving day would be fairly easy. I thought it would take only one trip to move everything.

After I met with Franco, the local moving expert, I began to realize that I had underestimated the task.

Franco had been highly recommended to me by some very kind Italian neighbors. They told me that Franco was a specialist with vast experience with moves within historical towns.

I first met with Franco on a cold, cloudy day in November to discuss the move in detail and to get a sense of what it would cost. I was surprised to discover that Franco was likely in his 70s. He had an iron grip and there was no doubt about his physical fitness.

Franco had a remarkably warm sense of humor while speaking in both Italian and the local Umbrian dialect. I understood much of his Italian but the Umbrian dialect was incomprehensible to me.

We went outside and Franco pointed out several challenges that he would have to deal with on moving day.

The first challenge was the narrow street called “Via Mura Vecchie”. The street name means “Old Walls Street” because there actually are two walls: an ancient Roman wall that parallels an old medieval wall.

A View Looking Down The Street With Two Roman Towers

A View Looking Down The Street With Two Roman Towers

Second, he noted that because of a wicked sharp left turn, followed by an immediate right turn, it would be impossible to drive from one end of the street to the other. He would need to pull up to load and then back up the full 200 feet length of the street. This task would be impossible in a moving van.

A Notorious Turn Which Is Difficult For Cars & Especially Moving Vans!

A Notorious Turn Which Is Difficult For Cars & Especially Moving Vans!

The Sign Above Says "Only Authorized Vehicles Are Allowed"

Third, while backing down, Franco needed to be very diligent not to hit the religious niche dedicated to the Virgin Mary located about halfway down the street. The niche also jutted out a bit into the street making backing down even harder.

Religious Niche

The Religious Niche Which Can Be Quite A Car Scraper If You Are Not Careful

Front View Of The Religious Niche  Dedicated To The Virgin Mary

Front View Of The Religious Niche

Dedicated To The Virgin Mary

Fourth, the street does not go in a straight line nor is it all the same width the entire way which makes backing down more challenging.

The View Up The Steep Street

The View Up The Steep Street

Fifth and most importantly, Franco stated that a large or medium size moving van would not fit on this narrow street. Not even a small van (furgone), would not be an option. All three sizes were simply too big.

The Street Narrows

At The Top, The Street Narrows

Of Course Our Apartment Is Located At The Very Top Past The Two Cars

As he pointed out each of these issues, he noticed what must have been a look of disappointment and concern on my face. He stopped for a moment, paused, then smiled and finally roared with laughter. He then slapped me on the back and said not to worry, that the move would actually be “molto facile” or “very easy.”

Franco said he would use what is called an “ape” for the move. An ape or “ah-pay” as it is pronounced, is the Italian word for bumble bee. An ape is a small three-wheeled, pickup-like truck. It is unique to Italy and it sounds a bit like the buzzing of a bumble bee when it zips along.

An ape is typically used by farmers or handymen. It is small, remarkably versatile and can pretty well navigate any nook or cranny in a medieval town. For its small size, it is remarkably powerful and can climb nearly every steep hill. Franco said that an ape would be perfect to navigate Spello’s narrow streets and go up the steep hill to my new apartment.

I had seen ape trucks many times but it had never occurred to me to use one this way. Now that Franco had mentioned it, this made a lot of sense.